..Something good, reliable, hearty, economical, even fairly quick:
(c) 2015, Davd
Readers in this year 2015 don’t need me to tell you that beef is outrageously expensive compared to pork or poultry. What beef i buy is chosen substantially based on price—and i do like to eat beef. So even in early summer, i bought a “blade roast” about 850g [slightly less than two pounds] in weight, for “last day reduced price” and when i got it back to camp*, popped it into the freezer. It came back out of the freezer before long, and one cool late afternoon and early evening, became a very satisfying meal.
“Yankee Pot Roast” used to be famous; but i’m not a Yankee and none of my Yankee friends ever taught me that technique. This particular roast was cut fairly thin—about 3 cm—as is common in Acadian food stores. I had a good supply of herbs, an onion and some carrots, and some vegetable stock… and of course, some pot barley. (Pearl barley will do fine, too, or you can use potatoes—even pasta, but that’s a little trickier).
A pot roast should be “seared”, or cooked briefly in a hot, preferably cast iron pan, to brown the flat sides; and then it should be simmered. I had a big enough, tall enough stainless steel frying pan, that i was able to sear the beef in a smaller, cast-iron pan and then transfer it to the big pan while i briefly browned the chopped onion on the cast iron. I used less than half of one medium onion and the result was good; more onion, or cutting in chive in addition would have been good also, perhaps a little better.
With the beef, vegetable stock, and some cut-up carrots in the big frying pan, there was room for everything, and also for the onion and barley to come—which there would not have been in the searing pan. If you have a really big cast-iron frying pan or “Dutch oven”, you can and should leave the pot roast in that pan from start to finish1.
I then added first about ¾ cup of uncooked barley, then a third of a cup of salted wild mushrooms, then oregano, liveche, and pepper. Thus the usual herb-spice checklist was covered: Strong Herb [Oregano], Celery [Liveche], Onion, and Pepper.. Mushrooms are optional; i happened to know that these salted Lactarii go well with beef and grain.
The big frying pan, with beef, grain, carrot, onion, spices, and vegetable stock, was then simmered for a half hour or perhaps a bit longer. A simmer, remember, is a gentle, slow boil.
The taste was delicious: The meat, full-flavoured and tender to chew, the barley, rich with the flavours it absorbed as it swelled while cooking, the broth, rich and full without any added “soup powder”. While i do very much enjoy a good beefsteak, especially grilled over the coals of a wood fire2, a well cooked pot roast also qualifies as a top-quality dinner, and the meat to make it usually costs much less.
The mushrooms are optional. Ordinary grocery store mushrooms will do fine, as will most of the stronger flavoured wild mushrooms… or you can leave them out. Cabbage and turnips are also optional, and i didn’t include either this time—but my vegetable stock included turnip flavour, which may have contributed to the good result.
Carrots, onion, and beef are not optional. You could substitute potatoes for the barley; but i myself like barley better, with simmered or boiled beef; and potatoes don’t protein-balance as well with red meat as grain does. The barley absorbs the meat and vegetable stock flavours as it cooks, which is why barley is so good in beef stews3 and with pot roasts.
(The best protein-balance for potatoes is “dairy”—milk or cheese. Baked or mashed potatoes with cheese can be delicious, especially with chives snipped a half centimetre to a quarter inch long, on top. My chef friend Soren used to add milk to potatoes when mashing them. Fried potatoes, whether shredded before frying or fried in slices, are very good with cheese melted on top and some chive snipped onto the cheese just as it melts.).
But that combination—potatoes and cheese—should be the subject of another blog. Beef and barley and some onion and carrot, the beef seared and the onion lightly browned before it’s all simmered with some herbs of your choice (and optionally, cabbage, mushrooms and turnip)—that’s a fine pot-roast, a meal you can cook any time of year and enjoy as leftovers if you haven’t enough guests or housemates to eat it up the day it’s cooked.
* I was preparing to relocate for prostate cancer treatment, so my home of 9 years had become “camp.”
1. I have one, but it hadn’t been used in months and would have needed cleaning and seasoning before i could have cooked in it without off-flavours—so i used two pans.
2. The best woods for grilling meat tend to be from trees that produce food: Apple, cherry, hickory and maple are famous. Alder wood also is widely known as a good barbecue wood. Don’t use pine!—or any wood high in pitch or turpentine content.
3. A beef stew usually contains more grain or potatoes relative to meat, and the meat is cut up into cubes; the techniques are otherwise quite similar. Pot roast very often yields leftover meat, after the grain and vegetables are all eaten, which can be made into sandwiches with mustard or perhaps mayonnaise.